Funding to target lead, mold and asbestos in Philly schools

Funding to target lead, mold and asbestos in Philly schools

(Pa.) Nearly $16 million in state funding will be directed toward cleaning up lead, asbestos and mold in some of Philadelphia’s most rundown schools under a spending package recently approved by Gov. Tom Wolf.

Most of the funding to clean up asbestos fibers and replace aging heating and cooling systems to reduce mold problems will come from the Philadelphia School District’s capital budget, and will cover projects in close to 60 of the district’s schools over the summer. The remaining $7.6 million will come from the state and go toward addressing lead paint deterioration in up to 40 schools.

Pennsylvania officials and advocates for student health and safety called the funding a major win for children and one long overdue.

“The condition of many of the buildings in our school district is dire and this financial injection comes at the right time to address their needs,” Sen. Vince Hughes, D-Philadelphia, a key developer of the funding package, said in a statement. “We need to do all we can to rid our schools of health threats, improve conditions and create exceptional learning environments.”

Districts from Oregon to New Jersey–especially those with older school buildings–are currently facing the impacts of lead in schools. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, despite being one of the most preventable childhood poisonings, 6 percent of all children ages 1 to 2, and 11 percent of Black children ages 1 to 5 have toxic blood lead level readings.

Lead exposure has long been linked to health issues, learning disabilities and behavioral problems.

In Philadelphia, the emergency cleanup followed an Inquirer and Daily News investigation earlier this year which examined how environmental hazards inside district schools put children and staff at risk for serious health problems which left unchecked. The series of reports identified more than 9,000 environmental problems since September 2015 through analyzing district records.

Reporters also found dangerously high levels of cancer-causing asbestos fibers on surfaces in classrooms, gymnasiums, auditoriums and busy hallways, as well as hazardous levels of lead dust on classroom windowsills, floors and shelves. About 90 percent of schools in the district were built prior to 1978, when the federal government banned the residential use of lead-based paint.

The governor made the funding announcement at Roosevelt Elementary School–one of the many sites in need of improvements. The school, which was built in 1924, is reportedly inundated by unhealthy conditions, including flaking lead paint in classrooms, damaged asbestos, mold and rodent droppings.

“The safety of our children should always be a priority and our schools must be healthy environments where students and teachers can focus on learning and building bright futures,” Wolf said in a statement. “The combination of this state and district funding will make the classrooms and hallways safer at dozens of schools and improve the lives of hundreds of thousands of children in the city.”

In addition to the newly announced spending, officials said a $7.8 million renovation will soon be underway at Roosevelt Elementary to replace the roof, modernize classrooms, update art and science spaces, improve the library and cafeteria, and add a new playground.

District officials told reporters at the Inquirer and Daily News that they will need almost $5 billion over the next decade for school construction and major repairs, such as replacing roofs and installing central heating systems at other school sites. more